I could say that Lia Ices’ new album “Grown Unknown” strikes like the singer’s surname. I could say that her clandestine voice has a way of shattering through the stasis of these January days. Or I could just say that there is something in her new album that carries you through sleep and wakefulness like a long river or a dream you’ve had before.
To be less abstract about the entire affair, Lia Ices’ second album promises to be one of this winter’s jewels. From the moment she releases the first note, “Grown Unknown” seems a stunt of lyrical skill that’s worthy of comparison with Joanna Newsom or St. Vincent.
Of course, the music world hasn’t seen Ices for a good two years, and in that time she’s silently climbed the shifting ladders and stairways of indie-pop—her reward is a record deal with Jagjaguwar. Looking back, though, one sees that her maturation has been more understated than the new label would suggest—much like everything about the singer. The emotional landscape of “Grown Unknown” seems more ambiguous, more inclusive of the frozen low and the shattering high—a duplicity that seemed heavy-handed on her previous effort. Perhaps it is this fact that makes one feel she has stepped into her own as a poet—after all, what is a poet if not a juggler of the passions, each a flaming sword. It’s a subtle sort of talent—one you can’t go boasting about at dinner parties.
But doubtless, I won’t be believed. “Subtle” is a word tossed around far too often in these printed columns—it’s the musical equivalent to the political world’s “change.” Still, I’ll shove it forward once again, and back it up with a lyrical reference from “Bag of Wind,” in which Ices sings: “Oh wildflower/ do me incomplete/ Let me exhale.” I think I need to wait a few centuries for this to be justifiable, but she might be the closest New York City will ever get to Bashō.
And maybe, just maybe, I shouldn’t be believed about the whole subtlety thing. By this, I mean that there is nothing subtle about posing for your album cover with a laurel of flowers about your head and a lily sprouting from your mouth—it is obvious Ices is a woman of certain adorable pretensions. But let us note that both the original, armless Venus and her plaster twin wear the same robes—in the end it’s all about what they sing.
So, if you would like, call Ices a hack, another depressed Daphne crooning into the broken night with only her synth for company. But I think a more careful ear will find greater, richer treasures. And after all, up close, there’s little difference between an icicle and a glacier—yet over time, zooming out past the dripping moment, I think Ices will slowly carve her mark into the gritty terrain of the modern scene.